The Frontstretch: 2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Matt Kenseth by Summer Bedgood -- Tuesday December 3, 2013

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2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Matt Kenseth

Summer Bedgood · Tuesday December 3, 2013


2013 Ride: No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2013 Primary Sponsors: Dollar General, The Home Depot, Husky Tools
2013 Owner: Joe Gibbs
2013 Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff
Stats: 36 races, 7 wins, 12 top-5 finishes, 20 top-10 finishes; 3 DNFs; 2nd in driver points.

Best Finish: 1st, Seven Times (Las Vegas, Kansas – April, Darlington, Kentucky, Bristol – August, Chicago, Loudon – September)
Average Finish: 12.1.

Matt Kenseth

High Point: Ugh … just one? Prior to 2013, no one doubted that Matt Kenseth was a talented driver. He was the last champion of the pre-Chase era and had 24 wins prior to this year. All of those wins and that championship came while racing the No. 17 Ford for Jack Roush and Roush Racing.

So when Kenseth decided to jump ship to Joe Gibbs Racing this season, it came as a bit of a shock to everyone. Why would he leave a team where he has had such great success for a team where he is a complete stranger?

With that said, Kenseth’s high point had to have been the second race at Loudon, which was the second race of the Chase. Kenseth and company won two races in a row—Chicago, then Loudon—which would wind up being his final win of the season. This was also the team’s seventh win all year, an astounding feat which was higher than eventual champion Jimmie Johnson’s win total (6). Finally, it was the team’s second week in a row of holding the points lead. What that win did was solidify their standing not only as a great team, but certainly championship caliber.

Low Point: And they might have won that championship too if it wasn’t for Phoenix. Kenseth and Johnson were largely equally matched all the way through the end of the season, and it was shaping up to be a heck of a battle between the two. A seven point gap between Johnson and Kenseth heading into Phoenix had NASCAR nation excited and optimistic about what would be an exciting battle heading into Homestead.

The points would not be so close after Phoenix. Kenseth struggled all race long with car handling, rarely seeing the inside of the top 10, let alone the lead. Kenseth would finish miserably in the 23rd position, leaving a 28 point gap between Johnson and himself in Homestead. That margin was one that was easily sustained for the experienced No. 48 team.

Though we don’t know whether or not Kenseth would have won the championship without Phoenix, Kenseth’s runner-up finish in Homestead does leave some wondering what could have been.

Summary: Jeff Gordon and the 24 car. Dale Earnhardt and the No. 3. Richard Petty and the No. 43.

Matt Kenseth and the No. 17.

Numbers have become synonymous with careers and there are digits and sponsors that we associate with drivers of either past or present. You look at the No. 48 and you know it’s Johnson or you look at the No. 18 and know it’s Kyle Busch.

Up until this year, you knew the No. 17 was Kenseth. It had been for 13 years for the Wisconsin native.

The change to Joe Gibbs Racing, strange as it may have seemed to us, though, was an easy one for Kenseth. JGR seemed like a solid fit to him, and how can we possibly question him now? In the midst of the Jimmie Johnson era, anyone who can run equivalent to the No. 48 team is astounding, but Kenseth was able to do so with a brand new team. New crew chiefs, new sponsors, new crew members, new car make. How good is this team going to be after several years when some sort of camaraderie and communication has been even better established?

Kenseth might have had quite a bit of success at Roush Racing and he will always have some fond memories of that No. 17 car. But if 2013 was any indication, Kenseth will be most remembered for his achievements in the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing.

2013 Team Ranking: Kenseth was heads and shoulders above both of his teammates, despite the fact that both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch won at least one race this year. Kenseth’s seven wins and second-place finish in the standings was the best amongst the JGR trio, with Busch finishing fourth in points after winning four races. Hamlin, after missing four races because of an injury sustained in Fontana, won the final race of the season on Homestead, maintaining an eight year run of winning at least one race each season. He would finish 23rd in points.

2014 Outlook: Assuming that Kenseth doesn’t suffer this infamous second-place finisher slump that has become commonplace in recent years, there is no reason Kenseth can’t go out and win the championship next season. In fact, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship came down to the same two drivers. For whatever reason, Kenseth and JGR are a match made in racing heaven and perhaps they will be Johnson’s worst nightmare in winning that seventh title.

2007 Grade: A-.
2008 Grade: B.
2009 Grade: C.
2010 Grade: B+.
2011 Grade: A.
2012 Grade: A-.
2013 Grade: A.

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